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Parish Reflection Day 2009 On Saturday 3rd October 2009, we gathered as a parish for a day of reflection; an opportunity to consider where we are as a parish on our collective faith journey and where we ought to be going together. Fr. Michael McAndrew, parish priest of St. Francis’ Church in Nailsea, ably led us.

The room was full, the atmosphere buoyant and it was clear that the group was positive and passionate about our faith and our parish. Father McAndrew’s first reflection took as its starting point the recently published diocesan guidelines, Called to be a People of Hope. Intended to be encouraging and inspirational rather than restrictive, it asks ‘is what we do deepening prayer, enabling communion and strengthening mission?’ With that in mind, we looked more closely at one of the main sources used in the guidelines: At the beginning of the New Millennium by John Paul II, which addresses the ‘work of pastoral revitalization.’

Now before you groan, he has guessed what you’re thinking. He writes, ‘It is not … a matter of inventing a ‘new programme’. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever… but it must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community.’ In order to do that we must have certain pastoral priorities, which John Paul II named as Holiness Prayer The Sunday Eucharist The sacrament of reconciliation The primacy of Grace Listening to the Word of God Proclaiming the Word We discussed these in small groups; exploring what we need to do to make the late Pope’s vision a reality.

When we were invited to feed back from our discussions, there was a desire to recognise the vast amount of good that is being done quietly by the people of the parish and the wider community. We recognised that after God’s Grace has awoken in us a desire to know, love and serve Him, the other priorities seem to flow into each other. We did wonder, however, how we are to go about becoming holy. We think of canonized saints as holy people but by dint of our Christian baptism, we are all called to holiness.

It is God who makes us holy; all we need do is let Him in and not let anything get in the way. We recognised that holiness in others is attractive and that fact is evident through the clusters of saints we find throughout history. Fr. McAndrew cited St Thérèse of Lisieux as and example: her parents are on their way to canonization and perhaps her whole family and many in her community could also be. In short, holiness is obtainable; holiness is contagious. Prayer is one of the three main principles of the Diocesan guidelines, ‘Each parish and community should be a school of prayer and we should become experts in prayer’.

Here Fr. McAndrew referred to Jesus’ teaching on prayer – But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees all that is done in secret, will reward you This ‘room’ is the ‘inner store room’ of our hearts, that place where we are alone with God no matter what chaos we are enduring in our physical environment. There, God himself teaches us to pray. As a group, though, we felt that we are not experts in prayer. Fr. McAndrew encouraged us not to worry about being ‘good’ at it but just to concentrate on being faithful to giving the time to prayer. ‘Just get on and do it’, I think he said. In many ways, it’s phenomenally easy; we just need to be aware of being in God’s presence and let Him lead us. One could feel a craving for God in that room: alongside a yearning to deepen our prayer lives, there was a desire to rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation. Yet there was also the same reticence. It was said that the celebration of the sacrament seems to have changed, and we have changed and now we don’t know where we are with it anymore. Again, Fr. McAndrew encouraged us not to worry about making a ‘good’ confession but just to go to confession.

Again the message was, ‘just get on and do it’. Whatever we do, one group summed up, we do it for the Glory of God. There we ended the morning session and, after midday prayer, enjoyed a rather tasty lunch. The second reflection took for its focus the Sunday Eucharist; celebrating the sacrament of hope. Fr. McAndrew told us that above the door between sacristy and sanctuary where he was celebrating Mass in Avila was a sign reminding the celebrant to celebrate this Mass as though it were his first, his last, his only Mass. His point was that we must always be careful to enter fully into the Mass and not to let it become mechanical nor let it lose its vitality for us.

After all, without the Mass, we could not exist as a Church. During the discussion that followed, we were asked to reflect on how we may foster a greater awareness of the Eucharist as the heart of Sunday and the heart of the Christian life. During feedback, we indicated that while, personally, we would say that the Sunday Eucharist is certainly at the heart of our Sundays; we know there are many people who no longer come to Mass.

We recognised that the distractions and demands of secular life (working, shopping, sport etc) place great pressure on people in contemporary society where, not many years ago, there was no work, no shopping and no sport on a Sunday morning. How, then, do we communicate the importance of Sunday Mass to others? We acknowledged that we couldn’t force our love of God on others. We ourselves need to be strong witnesses, then, to the holiness of Sunday and ‘always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). There was some regret among the group that we don’t always go to Mass as a whole family on a Sunday morning and let the rest of our lives revolve around that. Rather, with the convenience of a Saturday vigil and other Masses in other places, we sometimes fit our Sunday Mass in around whatever else we’re doing, even if that means different family members going to different Masses. Yes, the Sunday obligation is fulfilled, but is that enabling communion and strengthening family unity? We must have the courage to regain a sense of the holiness of Sunday. We then turned out attention to newcomers. Do they feel welcome? We like to think so but we must remember that ‘if the joy of the Lord is in your heart, please inform your face’! We appreciate that many people work hard to ensure our liturgy is always beautiful, dignified and, we hope, attractive to visitors.

It was suggested that young families whose children have been baptised or made their first communion at St. Bernadette’s might come to the church more regularly if the support they received through formal catechesis continues and perhaps becomes more social. We had come to the Day of Reflection through faith; we travelled in hope, that we might become a community more perfectly formed in charity. The day became a perfect example of how Christian hope (which is open-ended, for ‘the spirit blows where will’) can guide and direct us in ways we would not have imagined.

We explored how we can set about deepening prayer, enabling communion and strengthening mission and found ourselves saturated (in a good way!) with what we had listened to and thought of during the day. Now we need time to let those seeds germinate within us and later we will see what shoots have sprung up as a result. The original schedule had ‘resolutions and commitment’ at the end of the day. That will now be done sometime when the whole parish has the opportunity to commit to taking an active role in parochial life, because, as it said at the bottom of the invitation, ‘your parish needs you.’ Called to be a People of Hope http://www.cliftondiocese.com/called-to-be-a-people-of-hope At the beginning of a new millennium http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20010106_novo-millennio-ineunte_en.html

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